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Compensating for Risks: Companies reward essential workers with extra pay

By Bertina Fan and Miranda Lu Mar. 17, 2021

Ivan Zhu Art


In early February, California reinstituted hero pay, a bonus wage given to retail and grocery store employees, healthcare professionals and other essential workers, to acknowledge the heightened risk of continuing to provide essential services. The extra pay was reestablished following protests from many essential workers who have to take extensive precautions on a daily basis to protect their health.

Although Costco, Walmart, Target and several other leading chain stores initially voluntarily offered hero pay when the pandemic first hit in March of 2020, by the summer of 2020, the majority of companies ended their pay raises. Consequently, many grocery store workers across California called for the reinstatement of hero pay and accused companies of prioritizing profits over employees’ welfare. NBC Los Angeles reported that in May of last year, employees at a Sherman Oaks Ralphs grocery store joined a picket line to protest the end of their extra two dollars per hour pay and mourn the deaths of two co-workers from COVID-19. Additionally, grocery store workers at a Food 4 Less supermarket in the Los Angeles Boyle Heights neighborhood organized protests in November to demand the return of the hourly pay raise, according to CapRadio.

“Employees should be recognized for continuing to work, despite the high risk of contracting COVID-19. Every day, I have to take a screening of my temperature when I get to work at Safeway, wear gloves and a mask and frequently wash my hands and use hand sanitizer to minimize the chance of getting infected and jeopardizing my family’s health,” Senior Darcy Eliasi said.

In San Jose, workers will be paid an additional three dollars per hour; in Irvine, hourly income will increase by four dollars; and in both Los Angeles and Oakland, essential workers will receive five more dollars per hour.

In San Jose, Councilmember Sergio Jimenez proposed the extra wage policy, and the city council voted 7-3, in favor of the ordinance, according to The Mercury News. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), a labor union that represents around 1.3 million workers in the U.S. and Canada, helped pass the policy by urging the San Jose, Los Angeles, Irvine and Oakland city councils to assist their essential workers. In San Jose, workers will be paid an additional three dollars per hour; in Irvine, hourly income will increase by four dollars; and in both Los Angeles and Oakland, essential workers will receive five more dollars per hour.

“Frontline workers deserve to have compensation because we put ourselves in danger on a daily basis to provide essential services to the community. When working at Safeway, I try to take all the precautions I can to stay safe, but there is still a risk of contracting COVID-19. Additionally, there are sometimes customers who do not understand the importance of adhering to safety measures. Since smaller businesses have less profits, they should receive government assistance to give workers hero pay, but bigger businesses have the obligation of supporting their workers,” Senior Cyris Leonard said.

Moreover, many people believe that hero pay should also be extended to other essential workers, such as teachers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and healthcare workers. For instance, Leila Park, Math Department, believes that receiving hero pay and additional resources would be beneficial for teachers during in-person learning.

“Hero pay would be helpful, but as a teacher, I would prefer to have access to more resources that could help make teaching easier and safer. Supplies—such as masks, hand sanitizers and disinfectants—would help essential workers protect themselves,” Park said.

Although most companies have agreed to comply with the new orders, a few have refused to raise their essential workers’ wages.

Although most companies have agreed to comply with the new orders, a few have refused to raise their essential workers’ wages. For instance, USA Today stated that Kroger closed two stores in order to avoid boosting its employees’ salaries by four dollars per hour, ultimately causing over 200 employees to become unemployed. The city’s mandate was also challenged by the California Grocers Association, which filed a lawsuit against Long Beach by claiming that the ordinance interfered with collective bargaining—the negotiation of working conditions amongst a group of employees—between unions and grocery store workers.

In response to the opposition, Marc Perrone, the international president of UFCW, declared that the union will hold retailers accountable for neglecting their workers and forcing them to pay for their own safety equipment.

Workers, unions and city councils believe it is imperative that essential workers receive a bonus wage since they are risking their lives to help bolster social welfare. Hence, many people hope that the initiative will soon encompass a wider range of essential workers to help more workers pay for sanitation supplies and ultimately protect their health.

 

About the Contributors

Bertina Fan

Staff Writer


Bertina Fan is a sophomore at Leland High School and is a staff writer for The Charger Account. She likes to start off messages with "ヾ(°∇°*) Hi!"










Miranda Lu

Staff Writer


Miranda Lu is a sophomore at Leland High School and a staff writer. She enjoys hiking, reading, and watching movies in her free time.

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